|As East Troy teen grew up, his Big Brother wouldn’t let him down|
|Written by Todd Mishler/Walworth County Sunday|
|Wednesday, 07 December 2011 15:54|
Ralph Dickman attended Frank Bink’s graduation from Air Force boot camp in July in San Antonio. Bink, now 19, was matched with Dickman when Bink was 6 years old. Family photo.
(Read the full story in the e-edition HERE.)
GENOA CITY — Ralph Dickman flicked the switch for nearly three months before the light finally came on. It’s been 13 years now, and that light hasn’t gone out.
The Genoa City resident was divorced and his two children — both since deceased — were grown when, at age 60, he got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties.
His first and only assignment became Frankie Bink. His leap of faith took Dickman countless hours to knock down the social and emotional walls that surrounded the East Troy boy.
However, the Lake Geneva native’s compassion and perseverance finally paid off, and the two maintain an inseparable bond today, even though Bink is serving in the Air Force.
“I always enjoyed being around kids, because you never can tell what they’re going to say or do,” said Dickman, who retired after 40 years at McCullough’s drug store. “I went through the process, and six months later they called me with a possible match. But they said there was one problem — he doesn’t talk. And I said, ‘What?’”
Frankie and his older sister had been through a rough time before their parents divorced, so Dickman knew that clearing those psychological hurdles wouldn’t be easy.
“But I agreed to get together, so I met Frankie and his mom,” Dickman added. “Frankie just sat there the whole time, but I figured I’d give it a shot.
“For our first outing, I decided to take him to lunch, and I asked him where he’d like to go, and nothing. We stopped at McDonald’s and it was embarrassing because he wouldn’t say anything. I’m just thinking, ‘Oh my God.’”
Dickman tried movies, basketball games and several other activities, but nothing worked. But after three months, something unexpectedly and innocently sparked inside his little brother.
“I had gotten out some dominoes on my kitchen floor, and Frankie asked if we could set them up like on the box, and I almost fainted,” Dickman said. “And he slowly came around after that. He was so insecure, but Frankie just needed to learn how to trust and be comfortable with somebody.”
It continued to be a hit-and-miss proposition over the years as they worked together to find what appealed to Frankie. He didn’t like soccer, baseball or basketball, but he took to football in high school. They participated in Boy Scout activities, and they both love sports car racing.
“The biggest thing for him was developing confidence,” Dickman said. “I kept telling him that if he didn’t like something, to not worry about it, that he didn’t have to be good at everything, and we moved onto something else. The important thing was the trying part.”
Dickman and Frankie’s BBBS relationship is one of the organization’s great success stories because of its uniqueness — most community-based volunteer mentors aren’t as old as Dickman was, and most relationships don’t last this long.
However, Frankie said that he’s sure glad that Dickman stuck with him until things clicked.
“I was pretty nervous about it at first, especially hanging out with somebody I didn’t know at all,” said Frankie, now 19 and at home on leave until reporting for his next assignment Dec. 7 in Cheyenne, Wyo. “He was a lot older, which seemed a little strange to me. So it took a few months for me to be comfortable with the whole situation.
“But he always acted more like another kid than an adult or parent, so we had a lot of fun when we hung out,” added Frankie, who is an airman first class in the security forces, having attended basic training and been stationed in Texas until mid-November. “He wasn’t trying to be my parent; he was a friend instead, and that helped a lot. He became more a member of the family.”
Frankie’s sister worked with three mentors, but none of those relationships fared nearly as well during her participation in the program. However, Mary Bink said she can’t believe the transformation in her son and called his involvement with BBBS a godsend.
“Ralph has been so wonderful, so this has been great for Frankie because he didn’t have any other male figures in his life after I got divorced,” she said. “They act more like brothers than anything. It’s helped me a lot just by watching them.
“Frankie was afraid of everything and everyone, but Ralph was willing to jump in. I often wondered if my kids would just keep hiding in the closet, because Frankie’s been to hell and back. So, I can’t say enough good things about the program and couldn’t have done it without it.”
Frankie plans to stay in the military for 20 years, but will work on his criminal justice degree with hopes of becoming a police officer when he leaves the military. And he said it’s all been made possible because of Dickman and BBBS.
“It meant a lot to me having Ralph around, because he helped me with a lot of things that Mom couldn’t teach me,” Frankie said. “It gave her somebody to turn to when dealing with me and what I was going through, so she didn’t have to figure everything out herself. He’s been good for me and my family.”
And nobody’s more proud of the man that scared little boy has become than his older brother, who was in attendance when Frankie graduated from boot camp in July in San Antonio.
“It’s been like having another son,” Dickman said. “I liked having him depend on me. I appreciate the friendship we developed. It gives me a good feeling that I had something to do with this little boy, and now he’s a young man. I’m so proud of him.
“Our (BBBS) commitment ended when he turned 18, but I believe we’ll be friends for life.”
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 December 2011 16:00|